Chapter 23 : 23 - Final Days of Freedom
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It was only recently that I started thinking about HPFF again and I came on here to see whether Red Champion still had any readers, and I was shocked, surprised and amazed. Thank you so much for the ongoing support everybody has offered. Re-reading all reviews on previous chapters and new reviews since I have been gone offered me inspiration I didn’t think possible; I really had forgotten everything I enjoyed so much about writing this novel.
So I am back and here, amazingly, is a new chapter! Bear with me as I’m getting to grips with it all again, however the next chapter is the Second Task which is fully planned and hopefully will be with you all soon. I hope so much my old readers are still in the HPFF sphere after all this time and that new readers will be willing to give me a chance. Thank you so much everybody for giving me the confidence to continue this novel, without you all I would be entirely lost. Over the next few days I will be answering every single review I have yet to respond to as they mean the absolute world to me.
Any reviews you can offer on this chapter, ideas of what you’d like to see in the future of the novel and expectations of the second task would be, as ever, incredibly appreciated.
One last time –Thank You and Sorry.
23 – Final Days of Freedom:
Damp hung in the air like clothes on a washing line during a cold day, not sopping wet as they had once been but chilled with water droplets which still refused to leave, clinging to the fine fibres possessively.
It cast a thick blanket over Rose’s face as she moved her head back into the comfort of her room, slamming shut the ancient window she’d just been leaning out of to taste gulps of frozen air and scare away the ghosts of sleep which had been haunting her eyes for the past hour.
There was a small knock at her door. He didn’t need to, they both knew it, since the resolute wooden guard had stood open for several hours, but she knew he’d never want to impose. She smiled at Scorpius as he walked over to her.
“Ready?” he asked and she nodded, immediately grabbing her wand and pushing it into the pocket of her worn denim jeans. They’d been together, officially, for several days but it felt like they’d grown up together and had always had that pure, raw, innate connection which you can’t learn or create.
When they were in their rooms the doors stayed propped open, a decision which was never actively made but more a gesture which just grew from the moment they knew what they could share.
They didn’t live in each other’s pockets, or spend every waking moment together just because they could; their always open rooms were more a symbol of trust; of comfort; of a sense of honesty that they never needed to hide anything from the other. Rose was overtly aware of how good it felt.
Whether by luck or coincidence Rose hadn’t seen James since a few days earlier when he had suddenly found out she had gotten a boyfriend. It wasn’t a strange phenomenon, at the beginning of her time at Durmstrang she’d barely seen him at all and so avoiding him wasn’t difficult.
But she hadn’t hidden; she’d been in her room; to see her friends; to walk in the Durmstrang grounds as was expected but she’d never seen her tall, raven-haired cousin; for that reason, she knew he was avoiding her too.
Albus in comparison hadn’t made any attempt to broach the issue with either Scorpius or Rose but had acted as if nothing had happened, which was easy enough to believe when, not yet secure in their new relationship, the couple retained their friendships and usual routines.
Some small breath of fire in Rose made her want to confront it, to ask Albus, to approach James and find out what they thought because there was an ever twisting, twirling flame inside her, never extinguishable, which only burned brighter when Scorpius was near, and which carved the happy laughing smile on her face continually.
They walked hurriedly through the identical corridors on the Hogwarts Ship, late in the evening; despite the changing seasons it still remained chilled yet Rose felt like she was glowing even as Scorpius shook his head and laughed at her constant happiness. A note was still folded tightly in her pocket from days previous when hers and Scorpius’ detentions had begun for their role in Albus’ party.
Luckily the two had been segregated from the rest of their friends, Rose suspected so Professor Quila could feel as if they still had the opportunity to work on the Tournament. She grimaced at that thought, a dull ache starting at her temples as she sighed at the realisation of just how close the Second Task was. When it had been weeks away it had still felt reassuringly distant, but now it was in a mere two days time.
It was a foolish, childish thought but it occurred to her often: surely it was meant to be easier than this? She had one constant advantage over her fellow Champions, that her Uncle had been a Champion himself and yet his Tournament felt like an entirely different world to hers where hints and cheats and lucky guesses had roamed free through the weeks leading up to the terrifying challenges.
Rose couldn’t help but feel that any sense of good fortune had resolutely abandoned her in favour of her competitors, none of whom, when she spotted glimpses of them, appeared stressed, worried or tired from limitless practicing.
Providence was on their side. Today hers and Scorpius’ detention spot had been moved, for days they’d been helping with boring, menial tasks such as cleaning, washing, scrubbing and tidying the vast quantity of classrooms the Ship had to offer, without the luxuries of magical assistance, but today they’d been summoned somewhere different entirely: the Library.
Both had sought directions since neither had had any need to approach that living, breathing collection of ideas, memories, loves and hates which fluttered about the cavernous room, apparently hidden deep at the heart of the Ship in its very foundations.
Rose felt a strange burst of excited anticipation as if her body knew something she didn’t, that something interesting was about to arise. So she padded along the carpeted floors, her fingers tangled comfortingly with Scorpius’ with a sense of calm and subdued excitement.
“The sooner these detentions finish, the better,” Scorpius commented tiredly as they travelled through the soft silence.
“I can’t say they’re the highlight of my life,” Rose replied dryly, “and we’re not even halfway through yet!”
”We hardly have the time to spare,” Scorpius continued, brushing his fingers through his short blonde hair. Rose looked up at his worried face and squeezed his hand reassuringly.
“We just need to keep working at it. We got through the First Task having had no clue what it was about; this one will just have to be the same.”
“We’ll get there in the end,” Scorpius eventually said, brightening up slightly. “And then I’m going to sleep.” Rose raised an enquiring eyebrow.
“For absolutely ages, just catch up on all the nights I’ve lost since the Tournament.”
“We’ll still have another Task you know!” Rose reminded, elbowing him playfully in the ribs as she chuckled.
“Yes well, you might just be on your own for that one. Real men need sleep,” he yawned. Rose broke into bubbling strands of musical laughter, her mouth grinning wickedly as she looked up at the blonde-haired boy who walked alongside her.
“How do you know real men need sleep? Have you asked one?” she joked as he pretended to be offended, his bottom lip quivering as his eyebrows lowered and he perfected his sulky expression.
A retort, already perched on his lips, was stopped before it fled, distracted as both students became by the large dark oak doors which had revealed themselves ahead of the two, a single word carved in the rich chocolate surface; Library.
With rising trepidation and perfect symmetry they stepped forward and pushed open the barrier which creaked menacingly. They strode into the intimately lit space beyond; floating lanterns glowing with a myriad of different coloured light to illuminate the otherwise darkened space.
Tall bookshelves laden with heavy leather bound volumes and small torn paperbacks towered over the worn wooden floorboards and carved a maze through the room. Scorpius and Rose proceeded, continuing through the sea of books to eventually find small clearings filled by rickety tables and the stern face of their Headmistress as she whispered quickly to the short grey-haired woman who stood before her.
As Rose and Scorpius approached, their feet etched scraping, shuffling sounds into the near silence which had consumed the room previously, alerting the Library’s occupants to their presence.
“Mr Malfoy and Miss Weasley!” Professor Quila quickly replied, clapping her hands together as she attempted to disguise how startled she was by their sudden arrival.
The tall Headmistress had bright spots of red on the harshest angle of her cheeks, a usual sign she was angry which the two students knew well, although Rose couldn’t think why she would be quarrelling with her small companion.
“I don’t believe either of you have met our temporary Librarian here at Durmstrang? Madam Thompson kindly took on the job in the absence of Professor Mink, who remains at Hogwarts.”
Thewoman was babbling slightly as she continued, something unheard of from the usually cool and calm Professor.
Rose glanced at Scorpius but his eyes were focussed ahead, she too turned and smiled at the kind-faced woman, Madam Thompson, who ran a flustered hand through her hair and nodded back at the couple.
“If you could follow me.” Professor Quila motioned to them to follow her, Rose recognising the barely perceptible pursing of Madam Thompson’s lips as they left, her head shaking slightly from side to side as she retreated into the shadows of the book lined walls.
They were guided towards several tall book shelves, seemingly in disarray, with no clearly defined topics as was usually the method of organisation at Hogwarts. Rose picked out the thick gold text on the spines of some, from the Dark Arts, Herbology, Spell Casting and more; they appeared as if they had been hastily thrown onto the willing shelf and left there for somebody else to sort out. That, Rose supposed, was probably her and Scorpius’ job.
“The books here,” Professor Quila began, a long painted fingernail pointing to the chaotic collection, “need to be reorganised by subject and then arranged in alphabetical order; each spine then needs to be very well dusted as many of the titles have become almost completely obscured over time.
“You will also need to remove items hidden in any volumes to mark pages. Hogwarts pupils have an annoying habit of leaving traces of themselves in books.” She sighed suddenly, her eyes piercing as they focussed on the two blank faced students who responded with understanding nods.
“Finally, check through the books to make sure no passages have been highlighted or otherwise differentiated from the rest by a reader, if so you are allowed to remove this by magic, to ensure the books stay well kept in their original condition.” She smiled grimly at the two before nodding her head abruptly and starting to move away.
“You may both begin; detention ends when all of the books have been dealt with and organised correctly. You may call Madam Thompson at this time who will evaluate your work.” The tall woman strutted uniformly away without giving a backward glance, although Rose did note a slight expression of hesitation in her features before she had turned her back.
“Right,” Scorpius said, his mouth in a firm line as he raised an eyebrow in slight confusion at the strange actions of their Headmistress.
“That was...odd,” he finished. Rose nodded in agreement but with neither of them having the time or energy to consider it at that moment they threw themselves into their task and began pulling books off the shelves; Scorpius started at the top and Rose at the bottom, both keen for this detention to be over with as soon as possible.
Each gathered a tottering pile and carried their heavy loads to a nearby table where they were dumped unceremoniously on the shining brown surface. Rose picked up a book from the top of the heap, dark emerald in colour but cloaked by years of thick dust it was obviously rarely read, the lettering on the spine no longer visible.
From an adjacent table she picked up a dusting cloth and ran it quickly over the once brightly coloured bindings to reveal small silver text which read, Mysteries of the Dark and Intricacies of the Light. Rose raised an eyebrow with a less than enthusiastic approach as she provided the small cramped writing for Scorpius to see.
He grinned and pointed to his own leather-bound offering, entitled Spell Casting in the Middle Ages. Finding the enjoyment in pointing out the dullness of each other’s books the two soon found themselves enjoying the detention more; the task was repetitive and menial but at least interrupted by the slight interest over what the next book would hold.
It was a least thirty minutes later before Rose found a book in which several passages had been crudely outlined with thick pen and marked by a scrap of yellowing parchment. In interest she stopped her previously hurried activities to look, once again, at the large curling letters of the heading she had originally uncovered: The Complete Guide to Herbology by Augustus Liberton.
Complete she could easily believe it was, heavy and thick in her hands it rested resolutely on the table where it had previously landed with a thud. Several sections of text had been separated from the rest and Rose scanned through with precision, eyes picking out descriptions of rare herbs found abroad; healing properties of Bubotuber Pus; effects of the dangerous Belladonna plant; shrinking sensations caused by the Abyssinian Shrivelfig.
The words flew through her mind as she carefully removed the clear thick ink surrounding them with the tip of her wand, the black seeping back into her wand as it was drawn cleanly from the crisp page. Once finished she placed the book to the side, forming a Herbology pile beside those already forged from the previous titles.
Her tiredness began to return as they both reached their second hour, having cleared at least six shelves each they still had a further six between them as Rose’s eyelids started to fall and she swept a dirtied cloth over the thin book in her hand with little excitement.
The title, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, now glowed slightly in a piercing blue pressed as it was onto the dark sapphire surface. Once again numerous parts of the book had been underlined in a slim blue pen which Rose removed with the magical aid of her wand, only reluctantly running her eyes over what had been previously read by the reader before her.
Minutes later, after skating her eyes over the properties of Armadillo bile and the bad luck of the legendary Mackled Malaclaw the book was thrown hastily to the side to join other books of its subject, now with blissfully clean pages.
The most interesting part of the evening, Rose found, was coming across old texts from their first year. Scorpius had mainly found them in his collection and both had enjoyed the reminiscence over “Magical Theory” by Adalbert Waffling which they’d had to tirelessly study at the time, but which had now become a distant memory.
Eventually, after a further hour of tireless dusting, reading and cleaning, Scorpius and Rose came to a finish, Rose removing the last traces of pencil which outlined the geographical origins of creatures including Abraxans and Acromantulas.
With a sigh the two sat back into patched armchairs and stretched their arms above their heads as they yawned, both finally glad to have finished the monotonous task they had been set. Yet in moments they were on their feet again, rearranging the books onto the original shelf by subject in eager anticipation to finally be able to go to bed and rest for the next day of lessons and preparations for the Second Task.
Scorpius called out for Madam Thompson on completion who soon rounded the corner of the tall bookshelves behind them and approached their detention area, eyeing quickly the task they had been set before dismissing them without so much as checking their work, with a slight hint of disapproval in her eye.
The young couple left the darkness of the library to journey through the corridors outside and back to their luxurious quarters; as dull and passionless as their task had been they had worked long into the night. Scorpius smiled slightly before he leaned forward and touched his lips gently against Rose’s, his hand cupped the back of her neck as gently as his mouth caressed hers.
All too soon they broke away, almost feeling wide awake again with need running through their veins. But they separated, saying goodnight and returning to their rooms where they both fell quickly into deep, undisturbed sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Rose jerked suddenly upright, startled as she was by the sound of books clattering into bags and pens and pencils being packed safely away. Her eyes met those of Dawn who grinned at her knowingly, gesturing to the front of the class where the harried Professor was magically wiping clean the board having obviously just finished the lesson.
“Tired?” Dawn asked her red-headed friend who even now had heavy eyes from her previous fits of sleep during the long class.
“Detention...” Rose yawned widely, “...last night.” Dawn smiled grimly in reply as the two girls packed away their things and started walking from the room with its dark panelled walls and thick wooden desks. They soon parted ways as Dawn went on to her next class and Rose returned to her room to enjoy her free hour.
Swinging open the door to her and Scorpius’ shared room she flung her bag on the floor and settled comfortably on a squishy sofa by the room’s prominent fireplace. Seemingly as soon as her eyelids descended she was once again awoken abruptly by loud crude knocking on the open door of her sanctuary, reluctantly she observed who had interrupted her with glaring slits for eyes and a croaky yawn, smiling as she saw Hannah’s blonde framed face.
However the welcoming expression soon fell drastically as shaggy blonde hair preceded the tall, lanky figure of Sam Wilkes, still Hannah’s boyfriend, who had the fair haired girl’s small palm gripped tightly in his own, his large hand.
Rose frowned as she climbed to her feet, perfecting a sulky expression as she raised an eyebrow at a crestfallen Hannah.
“Wow this place is...awesome,” Sam began, dropping Hannah’s hand quickly as he crossed the room and began examining its various belongings. Rose stalked across to Hannah.
“Why did you bring him here?” she hissed, even as Hannah’s head dropped and her eyes examined the floor.
“I can’t get rid of him!” she unsuccessfully defended. “I don’t know what to do, Rose. I figured this would help me feel better about Albus but it hasn’t. He follows me everywhere, he practically invented “public displays of affection” and he’s...”
“...not Albus?” Rose finished slightly sharply, her frustration starting to grow as Hannah nodded.
“How do I get rid of him?” Hannah asked glumly as her eyes fixed on the boy who was unaware of the two girls’ conversation as he thoroughly examined the objects scattered about the large room.
Rose watched with distaste as his greasy, pale fingers stroked over spines of the books on a ramshackle bookcase, just grazing the button which opened the passage into the secret Library; thankfully the doorway stayed resolutely shut. She wracked her brains for the hint of an idea of how to get rid of Hannah’s new suitor with the least impact on herself or her friend.
“Come to my room,” Rose said quickly, beginning to lead Hannah through the open doorway. Sam didn’t even notice their exit, engrossed as he was in exploring the room full of exciting possessions. Rose pulled her bedroom door closed behind them with a snap. She sighed and looked at her blonde friend who’d started to settle herself on her bed.
“Why on earth did you get together with him in the first place?!” the redhead questioned, exasperated.
“You knew what a complete git he was. It was such a stupid thing to do.” Rose could feel her anger growing, she knew Hannah’s mind wasn’t in the right place at the moment, that she was confused and hurt and had just needed someone, anyone, to make her feel better.
But it didn’t excuse her actions. She’d made a stupid decision that Rose had to sort out, when she had a million and one other things she should be occupying her time with.
She was tired, fed-up and scared to death of the quickly approaching Second Task and Hannah’s lax attitude and ability to create difficult situations and then leave somebody else to clear them up had pushed Rose to the limit. The Second Task was tomorrow! Did Hannah now even realise?
“Do you know how much I’ve got on my mind at the moment? How many other things I have to deal with?” Rose argued, her voice starting to rise with indignation and stress. It wasn’t Hannah’s fault; she kept trying to tell herself it wasn’t Hannah’s fault but sheer exhaustion had crept up on her and she needed somebody to expel all her pent up frustration onto.
“I can’t be dealing with you as well!” she continued, eyes bright. “You got yourself into this stupid mess so you’ll just have to get yourself out of it. You didn’t need to go and get a boyfriend, especially not like that I mean what did you expect?
“You thought you could just pick up an average boy who didn’t ask questions, pretend to be interested in him for a week or so to make Albus jealous and then dump him? I can’t help you Hannah, I just can’t. I’ve got enough to be dealing with right now.”
Her anger was carrying her all the way through her speech. The sharp-edged words were spiralling out as the sleep deprived Rose barely even registered what she was saying. She could feel her heart’s harsh beat and the heavy painful lump which was starting in her throat as she started to realise what she’d said, what she was doing.
But she couldn’t have stopped it. She felt so anxious; life felt so unfair. So many responsibilities lay upon her young shoulders and she just wanted them gone. She wanted to go far away from here and just give up on the tournament. She just wanted Scorpius to herself, really to herself, with no obligations to fulfil or tests to study for.
She stumbled over to the window. Her fingers splayed out and threaded through her hair, squeezing on her skull, trying to push away the painful ache. She just couldn’t face it anymore.
Sometimes she’d convince herself the Second Task wasn’t coming, that she wasn’t the Hogwarts champion and she’d spend free, blissful hours with Dawn and Hannah or with Scorpius just being a teenager again.
Massaging her scalp she heaved a deep breath, pulling herself back to reality and edging away from the bright painful hysteria she was slipping towards. Pull yourself together, she told herself, just don’t think about it.
A click interrupted her thoughts and she turned around; her room was empty. She crossed to her door and opened it just in time to see that at the far end of the corridor swinging hastily shut, betraying the sharp, fast exit of the person who had just passed through it. At the sound of movement Sam had emerged from his reverie and walked out of common room.
“Where’s Hannah gone?” he asked, a sneer twisting his thin lips.
“Go ask her yourself,” Rose answered, gesturing to the door at the end of the corridor and turning her back on the tall Gryffindor, ready to return to bed and just sleep away this wasted day. A hand landed on her shoulder.
“You always were such a pretty one,” Sam’s greasy voice whispered in her ear. She could feel his hot breath playing over the skin of her neck. She shuddered and twisted her shoulder from his grip, a snarl curling her lips as she turned to face him. He was close; he was too close.
She was panicking, but not because she was afraid of him; on a normal day she could have taken care of him easily, but today she was a wreck. She felt like she was working on autopilot, her body was heavy and weighted as her head throbbed and her eyes watered. The overpowering smell of his cheap aftershave made her feel dizzy as she struggled to organise her thoughts and get her mind and body to work together.
The door at the end of the corridor swung open before she had a chance to do anything but stand there numbly. Scorpius stumbled through, his awkward gait betraying his tiredness.
He stopped instantly when he saw them; the image of that slimy womanising Gryffindor with his girlfriend pressed up against the wall; his girlfriend who wasn’t pushing Sam Wilkes away but who stood there with a guilty look on her face. His heart squeezed painfully tightly.
Sam smoothly pulled himself back and seeing Scorpius’ piercing stare was fixed on Rose he patted her shoulder even as she flinched backwards.
“See you again some time,” he drawled and exited the corridor, a shocked Scorpius letting him walk past.
“What’s going on?” he asked quietly, brushing his fingers through his hair. His hand shook.
“What do you mean?” said Rose sharply, feeling the accusation in his words. “You saw what happened, that...creep had me pushed up against the wall.” She shuddered.
“What was he even doing here, with you, alone,” he replied. He sounded tired and his words staggered into each other making his speech barely coherent.
“He came with Hannah but we had an argument so she left and he didn’t. I told him to go after her and turned to go back into my room and he grabbed me.” Rose’s eyes were pleading, her voice was trembling. Scorpius watched her carefully and slowly walked towards her.
“You promise me that’s the truth?” he asked simply.
“Of course! I wouldn’t lie to you.” He felt the sincerity in her words and let out a deep breath. His arms wrapped gently around her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “it was just a long night last night and a long day today. I’m exhausted. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” They sank into the warmth of their shared embrace as they both realised that this small incident must be disregarded for now. The Second Task lingered in the air and time was precious. They broke apart and linked hands, Scorpius leading her through to the shared room where they began their final evening of preparation.